Is Neti-neti a practice of negation, or an expression of inneffability? I'm curious because I've heard it described in both ways.


5 Answers 5


The via negativa path is the neti neti (not this, not this) path of Jnana Marga. It of course assumes that Brahman can not be described by any human model.

No one can say with finality that God is only ‘this’ and nothing else. He is formless and again He has forms. For the bhakta He assumes forms. But He is formless for the jnani, that is, for him who looks on the world as a mere dream. The bhakta feels that he is one entity and the world as another. Therefore God reveals Himself to him as a Person. But the jnani – the Vedantist, for instance – always reasons, applying the process of ‘Not this, not this’. Through this discrimination he realizes, by his inner perception, that the ego and the universe are both illusory, like a dream. Then the jnani realizes Brahman in his own consciousness. He can not describe what Brahman is. Do you know what I mean? Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, as a shoreless ocean. Through the cooling influence as it were, of the bhakta’s love, the water has frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising of the sun of knowledge, the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn’t feel any more that God is a Person, nor does one see God’s forms. What He is can not be described. Who will describe Him? He who would do so disappears. He cannot find his ‘I’ anymore.

If one analyzes oneself, one doesn’t find any such thing as ‘I’. Take an onion, for instance. First of all peel off the red outer skin; then you find thick white skins. Peel these off one after the other, and you won’t find anything inside.

In that state a man no longer finds the existence of his ego. And who is there left to seek it? Who can describe how he feels in that state – in his own Pure Consciousness – about the real nature of Brahman? There is a sign of Perfect Knowledge. Man becomes silent when It is attained. Then the ‘I’, which may be likened to the salt doll, melts in the ocean of Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute and becomes one with It. Not the slightest distinction is left.

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, The Master with the Brahmo Devotees (I) [October 28, 1882]

  • Still sleep is better
    – blue_ego
    Dec 31, 2022 at 0:01

Neti-neti is the best description of brahman.It eliminates the possibility of brahman having any attributes what-so-ever.


Brihadaranyaka upanishad 2.3.6

....Now therefore the description (of Brahman): ‘Not this, not this.’ Because there is no other and more appropriate description than this ‘Not this.’...

Note: iti actually means "like this" or "thus" or "in this manner" rather than "this".

Commentary by Shankara

It is by the elimination of these limiting adjuncts that the Śruti wishes to define the nature of Brahman negatively, saying, ‘Not this, not this.’ ...

That same Brahman, again, is devoid of all limiting adjuncts, the object of intuition, birthless, undecaying, immortal, fearless, and beyond the reach of even speech and mind, being above duality, and is described as ‘Not this, not this.’ ....

How through these two terms ‘Not this, not this’ is it sought to describe the Truth of truth? By the elimination of all differences due to limiting adjuncts, the words refer to something that has no distinguishing mark such as name, or form, or action, or heterogeneity, or species, or qualities. Words denote things through one or other of these. But Brahman has none of these distinguishing marks. Hence It cannot be described as, ‘It. is such and such,’ as we can describe a cow by saying,. ‘There moves a white cow with horns.’ Brahman is described by means of name, form and action superimposed on It, in such terms as, ‘Knowledge, Bliss, Brahman’ (III. ix. 28), and ‘Pure Intelligence’ (II. iv. 12), ‘Brahman,’ and ‘Atman.’ When, however, we wish to describe Its true nature, free from all differences due to limiting adjuncts, then it is an utter impossibility. Then there is only one way left, viz. to describe It as ‘Not this, not this,’ by eliminating all possible specifications of It that one may know of.....

These two negative particles are for conveying all-inclusiveness through repetition so as to eliminate every specification whatsoever that may occur to us. Such being the case, the doubt that Brahman has not been described is removed. If, on the other hand, the two negative particles merely eliminated just the two aspects of Brahman that are being discussed (viz. the gross and subtle), then other aspects of It besides these two would not be described, and there would still be a doubt as to what exactly Brahman is like. So that description of Brahman would be useless, for it would not satisfy one's desire to know It. And the purpose of the sentence, T will instruct you about Brahman’ (II. i. 15), would remain unfulfilled. But when through the elimination of all limiting adjuncts the desire to know about space, time and everything else (that is not Brahman) is removed, one realises one's identity with Brahman, the Truth of truth, which is homogeneous like a lump of salt, is Pure Intelligence, and is without interior or exterior; his desire to know is completely satisfied, and his intellect is centred in 1 the Self alone. Therefore the two negative particles in 'Not this, not this' are used in an all-inclusive sense.....

Objection: Well, after buckling to with such ado is it fair to describe Brahman thus?

Reply: Yes. Because there is no other and more appropriate description than this ‘Not this, not this,’ therefore this is the only description of Brahman. The particle ‘iti’ covers all possible predications that are to be eliminated by the two negative particles, as when we say, ‘Every village is beautiful.’..

  • Anything that can be conceived of is an obstacle to liberation.
    – S K
    Feb 19, 2020 at 11:48

Yes. 'Neti, Neti' is an expression of Ineffability - kind of description of Nirguna aspect. Read/understand the following links and discussions for more details in the same order below...


Consciousness as vrittis themselves


Understanding Nirguna Brahman


Neti-Neti is a way to describe the Advaita Nirguna Brahman.

Neti-Neti or Na-iti Na-iti means neither this nor that.

For example Nirgina brahman is neither with form nor formless it is incorpeal like smoke. It is neither here not there. Something like that.

Avadhoota Gita of Sri Dattatreya 1.62.:

साकारं च निराकारं नेति नेतीति सर्वदा । भेदाभेदविनिर्मुक्तो वर्तते केवलः शिवः ॥ ६२ ॥

62 ) The world of form and the formless Void : Neither of these exists independently . In the One , there is neither separation nor union ; All is called no-no (not this-not that/neti-neti). Truly , there is nothing but Shiva alone freed from all these differences.

Shiva Sankalpa Shuktam from Rig Veda Khila.:

अस्ति विनाशथित्वा सर्वमिदं नास्ति पुनस्तथैव द्दृष्टं ध्रुवम् । अस्ति नास्ति हितं मध्यमं पदं तन्मे मनः शिवसंकल्पमस्तु ।। 25.

25. ‘Is’, ‘is not’ – upon sleeping all this vanishes, and yet again is seen certain as before; ‘is’, ‘is not’ – the middle state is the beneficial one. [Wherewith this is realized], may such my mind be of beautiful and divine resolves, filled with Auspicious Shiva-thoughts.

अस्ति नास्ति विपरीतो प्रवादोऽस्ति नास्ति सर्वं वा इदं गुह्यम् । अस्ति नास्ति परात्परो यत्परं तन्मे मनः शिवसंकल्पमस्तु ।। 26.

26. ‘Is’, ‘is not’ — this is contrary disputation; ‘Is’, ‘is not’ — all this is indeed a secret concealed in the cave (heart as atman);‘Is’, ‘is not’ – that which is beyond the beyond— whereby this is realized, may such my mind be of beautiful and divine resolves, filled with Auspicious Shiva-thoughts.

योऽसौ सर्वेषु वेदेषु पठते ह्यज ईश्वरः । अकायो निर्गुणोऽध्यात्मा तन्मे मनः शिवसंकल्पमस्तु ।। 18.

18. The one that is recited soundless in all the Vedas, non-pierceable incorpeal self (atman), may such my mind be of beautiful and divine resolves, filled with Auspicious Shiva-thoughts.

I hope this clarifies all your queries. Prd..


From vedas

स एव नेति नेति इति व्याख्यातं निह्यते यतः। सर्वमग्राह्यभावेण हेतुनाजं प्रकाशते।।

(#अथर्ववेदीय_श्रुति_माण्डुक्योपनिशद atharvavediya Shruti mandukyopnishad)

क्योंकि स एष नेति नेति इति (वह यह नहीं यह नहीं है) इत्यादि श्रुति आत्मा के अग्राह्यत्व के कारण (उसके विषय में) पहले बतलाते हुए सभी भावों का निधन करती है, अतः इस (निषेध रुप) हेतु द्वारा ही अजन्मा आत्मा प्रकाशित होता है।

Shruti destroys (by saying neti neti) all the senses while telling (about him) first because of the inadmissibility of the soul, so the unborn soul is revealed through this (prohibition form).

ततः परं परब्रह्म विद्धि राम सनातनम्। सद् वेदैरपि वेदान्तैः नेति नेति इति गीयते।।

(#इति_भुषुण्डि_रामायण_वचने) bhusundi ramayan

Beyond that, know Shri Ram as eternal Supreme Brahman. Even the true Vedas and Vedanta sing his glories as Neti Neti.

वेद तथा वेदान्त भी जिन्हें नेति नेति करके गाती है, वो कोई और नहीं परात्पर परंब्रह्म सच्चिदानन्द स्वरूप भगवान श्री राम ही है।

नेति नेति जेहि बेद निरूपा। निजानंद निरुपाधि अनूपा॥ संभु बिरंचि बिष्नु भगवाना। उपजहिं जासु अंस तें नाना॥

(#इति_रामचरितमानस_बालकाण्ड) ramcharitmanas

जिन्हें वेद 'नेति-नेति' (यह भी नहीं, यह भी नहीं) कहकर श्री राम का ही निरूपण करते हैं। जो आनंदस्वरूप, उपाधिरहित और अनुपम हैं एवं जिनके अंश से अनेक शिव, ब्रह्मा और विष्णु भगवान प्रकट होते हैं।

Whom the Vedas refer to Shri Ram by saying 'neti-neti' (not this, not this also). Who is blissful, titleless and unique and from whose part many Lord Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu appear.

Hence Shruti words like "neti neti" only refers to bhagwan shri Ramchandra

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .